It wasn’t that long ago when television stations “concluded” their programming and “left the air”.
Sometimes you would be up and awake for the announcer’s voice to tell reassure you that “programming would resume” at its regularly scheduled hour the next morning. Sometimes you would fall asleep on the couch and wake up to the the test pattern. Seeing it meant the day was over –or the day’s news– and you could go to bed knowing that the next day was the next day and a chance to start over.
Cable has ruined that. The day never ends, and neither does the trouble of the day. If you fall asleep with a cable news program going the horrors of the previous day are going to carry over into your sleep and into the next day. And now all it takes is a phone on the pillow next to you to do this. A smartphone has no test pattern.
In Chicago there were basically three network stations and one independent, and they all had their distinctive patterns, as you can see. My favorite was Chanel 5’s NBC Peacock, even when it was in black and white.
The world might be happier if all you could get were test patterns after 11:00 pm or midnight; then yesterday’s news could stay yesterday’s news.
There was a time early in my life when I was never belted.
Life was free, I was able to jump like an acrobat from front to back seat, and even spent time napping in the rear window above the back seat.
The beginning of the end of my freedom came on this day, July 10, 1962, when Nils Bohlin, a Swedish engineer working for Volvo received a patent from the US Patent Office for the first three point seat belt.
Here is how Bohlin described his invention:
In the patent, Bohlin explained his invention: “The object… is to provide a safety belt which independently of the strength of the seat and its connection with the vehicle in an effective and physiologically favorable manner retains the upper as well as the lower part of the body of the strapped person against the action of substantially forwardly directed forces and which is easy to fasten and unfasten and even in other respects satisfies rigid requirements.”
Until that time there were either no seat belts in the cars we owned, or the two point ones which saved your ass but made you into a vegetable when your chest was either crushed by the ram-rod steel steering wheel or smashed against the metal dashboard or you did the flying header through the front windshield.
I admit I didn’t like seat belts at first, and for the first few years of my driving career I didn’t wear them. I justified it by repeating horror stories of people trapped in cars due to their seat belts after a crash and burning to a crisp.
There was no one instance that convinced me that I loved being belted. As I got older and a few more brain cells activated I began to slap the belts across my chest. The one time I was probably saved from flying out of my car was when a flat-bed truck hitched my car on I-57 on its left side. I was in the truck’s blind spot. I felt the car engage with the truck and start to be dragged along. They don’t teach these scenarios in Driver’s Education, so I did the only thing I could think to do: slam on the brakes. So did the truck. My car fishtailed and ended up sideways in front of the oncoming truck in the truck’s lane. I still shiver when I see “MACK” on the front of a truck. So I lived. The car whipped into the far left lane of traffic away from the truck in the middle and I skidded to stop with my car door on the driver’s side wide open on the shoulder.
There was another time when the brakes went out in a car I was a passenger in and careened down a hill towards Lake Superior, but one story about being belted is enough.
The food that bloated an entire generation is in danger of going the way of the VCR.
In the late 1960’s and 1970’s Hamburger Helper was the staple of thousands of avacado-colored kitchens or eaten on a “TV table” in front of the four channels that passed for choice in viewing back then.
The Wall Street Journal, no less, is reporting on the possible demise of a ” food” that ranked right up there with the Twinkie.
Now that Hamburger Helper will soon be lost to history I expect that it will become the trendy food for the food snob, and HH Bistros will soon populate Bucktown and Logan Square and probably even dot Manhattan — the one in New York state. All sorts of creations will spring from the imagination of chefs too young to be poisoned –or fed– the cardboard box delicacy.
Some old standbys haven’t fared as well. Hamburger Helper, and the other Helper varieties owned by General Mills, declined to 40% of sales of dinner mixes in the U.S. last year from 61% in 2007, according to market researcher Euromonitor, and Conagra Brands’s Chef Boyardee’s share of shelf-stable ready-meal sales fell to 23% from 25%.
General Mills said Hamburger Helper might not have robust growth prospects but generates consistent profits and feeds millions of Americans. It improved the taste by using real cheese and, to attract value-oriented shoppers, has added 20% more pasta, a spokeswoman said.
It used to invoke emotions that were not as savage as twerking, but had its place in every American home at one time.
I am talking about the coffee pot. A type that perks. With a little glass dome on the top that you can see the coffee erupt into and then drop and then cycle again.
I have no beef with Joe DiMaggio and Mr. Coffee and all its descendants, but one day about two months ago I pulled out a small campfire coffee pot that you have to put on the stove and fired the gas and let her perk.
It was music to my ears and smell porn to my nostrils. I was in bed and in love.
Then I tasted the love.
It was everything I remembered.
I am a perk addict.
Naturally, to feed my addiction I wanted ever more. My little perk coffee pot was good for one cup, so I set off on a mission to find a bigger pot.
This kind of pot is not easy to find.
Impossible, in fact.
I went to all the big box stores and Ace Warehouse and Dick’s Sporting Goods and could not find a perking coffee pot. I even went to Good Will and the Salvation Army, and no such machine.
I paused long enough to notice that there are 302 answered questions about it and over 3000 reviews. Of a coffee pot, a simple coffee pot. You put cold water in, put the grounds in a steel basket, cover, and put on a flame — and 302 people have questions.
We have come a long way.
Meanwhile, I will ponder the 302 questions and sip my coffee and maybe post a review.
When we hear today the term “separation of church and state” we think of it as being a precept that impedes the government on all levels from establishing a state-run church, but I found an interesting exception–kind of–in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, where the physical building of a beautiful church was completed with the resources of the federal government, but nobody had a problem with it in the early 20 Century and neither should you.
So I tease.
It’s worth it if I can get you to pay attention to some of the most inspiring architecture in a city that is known for beer, brats and the setting of the old Happy Day’s sitcom.
Milwaukee is sporting new construction all over, but especially in its downtown. New towers are rising into the sky and entire sections are being reclaimed from failed smokestack industry or abandoned rail yards.
In the early 20th Century the skyscrapers of the time were often the church spires that spiked and determined neighborhoods, or, more precise: “parishes”. Often these churches reflected the pride and religion of those who settled in a particular neighborhood. St. Josaphat Basilica is one of those churches, and its towering facade owes its existence to inspired frugality and the federal government.
Ground was broken for the new church that would become home for 12,000 Polish immigrants in 1896, which in Milwaukee represented only a fraction of the total Polish people now living in this majority German immigrant city. Plans were commissioned by the pastor, Father Wilhelm Grutza, with the design to be modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome.
The plans for the edifice had to be altered when Fr. Grutza discovered that the Chicago Post Office and Custom House was to be demolished. Here was an opportunity to get a huge supply of pre-cut stone that indeed became the facade of the largest Polish parish in Milwaukee at a bargain rate, $20,000.
When the basilica was finished the only dome in the United States that was larger was the one over the Capitol in Washington DC.
In 1929, the Franciscan Friars, the order that took over administration of the church petitioned Pope Pius XI to declare St. Josaphat a basilica, a designation that is reserved for the larger, more ornate churches. St. Josaphat was the first Polish church given that honor and only the third church in the US at the time.
A walk through the visitor’s center will tell the story of the building of the church and will also have information for sale about St. Josaphat.
I was reminded of the beautiful churches I visited in Rome and also of the beautiful churches I would soon visit in Turkey, which I will have more on next time. When I entered the church it was empty, it was around noon, and the winter’s light was shining brilliantly though the stained glass windows and illuminated what I liked to believe were the spirits of all those who have worshiped over the years. I am a dome man when it comes to churches, so looking up I saw the shining lights, and I saw them dance to the sides of the altar.
Church history in the United States is rich and varied, and ranges from historical portages that brought early French priests into the Midwest to maturing centers of faith represented by St. Josaphat. A little roaming off the path for your average Catholic traveler will reveal more than you ever would think possible.
This is probably the one and only time when the federal government was responsible for constructing a beautiful church that so many have worshiped at for so many years.
With the first couple of snowfalls in Chicago I am reminded of a tradition called “Dibs”, which probably goes back to when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was a pup.
Even back then, when you shoveled out a spot for your horse or your horse and carriage, you put out a piece of furniture to block another citizen from parking their horse in your spot. With the invention of the automobile the tradition continued, but the Dibs markers got shoddier. Today, there is every collection of chairs, old table, stolen road-work horses and old refrigerators calling dibs for the treasured spot, hard won and hard dug, out of the snow.
Dibs s a tradition that our current mayor and administration are trying to stamp out, but like patronage and the Chicago Hot Dog, Dibs will never be fully erased from the collective consciousness of the snow-shoveling, sore back, Chicagoan.
I do have a suggestion: make Dibs prettier; maybe even make it a tourist attraction around Christmas and the New Year –and that is to decorate. Yes, decorate your Dibs!
Buy a new Dibs chair or refurbish it, style it.
Maybe you get a 1950’s kitchen chair and place an Elvis figure in it.
Or maybe you go for something more contemporary and get a big old, used office chair, nice and plush, and put a Trump figure it it. If you can’t find an exact likeness just get one of the many Halloween masks that were sold and stick it on a straw-filled dummy. This will work for all those who in true blue Chicago who think Trump is stupid and scary. Adding the Presidential Seal is an option, but it does carry authority.
The Chicago Tourism and Convention Bureau can sponsor a Dibs Contest, and all the tourists who usually crowd Michigan Avenue and never go west of State Street will have a reason to go into the neighborhoods. They can then vote by Dibs App on the best set- up to keep your neighbor where they should be — in their own damned personal space.
When the winner is announced the award will be a Dibs Chair, so the tradition can spread across the United States to cities big and small – and even across the world, as the visitor from, say, Russia –which could be the Dibs capital of the world– proudly put their furniture in front of their homes, daring anybody to move it. Double-dog daring.
Minor Adventures, Major Thoughts on the road and at home